Sean Riley remembers the first day Nebraska running backs coach Ryan Held walked into Trinity Christian School in Cedar Hill, Texas. Riley, the associate head coach and special teams coach for the Tigers, has seen many coaches walk through the doors of Trinity Christian. There was something different about Held, though.
This past recruiting season was a successful one for Trinity Christian football’s senior class. Of its 14 seniors, 11 received football scholarships. That meant coaches from more than 40 colleges from different conferences and levels visited the town of Cedar Hill.
One of those coaches was Held.
“At first you think it’s because he’s wearing the ‘N’ on his blazer and jacket and all that, but then you realize it’s not,” Riley told Land of 10. “He sits down and it’s like you’re talking to your best friend.”
On the first visit Held made to see Trinity Christian running back Maurice Washington, he brought along defensive backs coach Travis Fisher. The two sat with Riley for 45 minutes and talked about everything. Riley walked away from the conversation feeling as if Held took more interest in what he and the Trinity Christian coaches do than many others who had previously visited.
That didn’t change as Held continued to visit.
“You knew that he meant what he said,” Riley said. “You could feel that, and you don’t always feel that with everybody. He’s definitely a person where you can tell within the first 5 to 10 minutes you meet him that he’s a good guy.”
Held had one final commitment before he could head back to Orlando, Fla., and spend time with his family. Nebraska coach Scott Frost announced the time off for both the offensive and defensive staffs on National Signing Day, sharing that the offense would take the much-needed vacation first.
Traveling down I-29 to a football clinic Friday in Kansas City, Held thought back on the past two months. It had been a whirlwind for the Nebraska staff, which balanced coaching UCF to a win over Auburn in the Peach Bowl and recruiting for the Huskers. By the time National Signing Day arrived, most on the staff had hardly seen their families in more than a month.
Held seemed to be one of the Nebraska coaches on the road most often during the past two months. He’s humble when asked about it, saying it’s only because he’s more “out there” on Twitter.
There’s a reason Held is so visible, though. He loves Twitter and enjoys using it to recruit, but there’s more to it than that.
“It’s fun,” Held told Land of 10. “You meet so many people and to be able to walk in and share the vision of what we have for Nebraska football and the future and all the good things that are going to happen, it’s fun.”
One of those people Held met was Riley.
When Held walks into a school such as Trinity Christian, he reminds himself of where he’s been that’s allowed him to be where he is now. Held spent 12 years as a head coach for smaller programs, with eight at the Division II level and four at the junior college level. Those days showed him what it’s like to be the smaller school walking in the door and what it can feel like to be bumped by the bigger programs.
Having that experience allowed Held to know what he’d do if he made it to a big-time program.
“I guess I always felt that if the Lord blessed me with the opportunity to be in a Division I uniform or polo that I’m never going to be cocky or arrogant,” Held said. “I’ve just felt that I never wanted to forget where I’ve come from. These guys work hard. These high school coaches do a tremendous job, and I just want to be able to show that I’ve worked my way up the ladder and you can someday if that’s what you choose to do.
“I just like to treat people the way you should treat them.”
Held stood in the back of the room as Frost addressed the media during his National Signing Day press conference. When a question came about Held, Frost’s eyes shot across the room to find his running backs coach.
Frost already had discussed the recruitment of Washington, and how Held played a major part in the commitment of the talented 4-star running back. When it came time to address how Held handled the recruitment of Washington and so many others, Frost couldn’t help but toss a joke in Held’s direction.
“I think his best asset is there’s a lot of loose marbles floating around in his head,” Frost said.
Held laughed. To a certain degree, you have to be a little crazy to accomplish what he and the Nebraska staff did during the past couple months. To coach one team for a New Year’s Day bowl game victory while delivering a top 25 recruiting class for another is not an easy feat. In fact, it’s something Frost is not sure can be replicated.
To pull something like that off, Held and the Nebraska staff had to cross the country many times and utilize every relationship they had to make it work. By the end, Held was grateful for the support of his family, the coaches around him and TSA pre-check.
Held also was grateful for high school coaches such as Riley. When you’re traveling coast-to-coast and spending months away from those you love, sometimes it’s nice just to sit down and chat. So while Riley found himself grateful for the time from Held, Held felt very much the same about the time from Riley.
And in the end, the time paid off.
“There’s nobody that I’ve been around that’s more diligent or passionate around getting the right players on your team,” Frost said. “Anything I ask, he’s going to do it and do it in the best interest of the football team. It’s important to have guys like that on your staff.
“A lot of the kids [we signed], Ryan Held was a big part of getting them.”